by Willard Manus
In the tradition of All the Presidents Men and Spotlight, THE POST is a journalism movie, one that goes behind the scenes at the Washington Post and shows how much courage it took for that newspaper to stand up to governmental and business pressure and publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret documents that revealed how four U.S. presidents waged a brutal and unnecessary war in Viet Nam.
THE POST is a star vehicle for Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, who play, respectively, the publisher and editor of The Post, both of whom had the responsibility of deciding whether to publish the expose or not. Streep impersonates Katherine Graham, a woman who was obliged to take control of the newspaper in 1965 when its owner, her husband Frank, suddenly committed suicide. Graham, a D.C. matron who had never worked a day in her life, struggled to follow in his footsteps. Not only was she a timid and inexperienced executive, she was the only woman in an all-male world, treated as an inferior by the boys.
In yet another
of her masterful performances, Streep charts how Graham came of age at
the Post and grew into her job, eventually finding the strength and conviction
to become a free press champion. Aiding her was Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the
managing editor of the paper, a man whose dogged democratic values influenced
and inspired her.
THE POST, which was skillfully directed by Steven Spielberg, also has elements of a detective story; much of the film is devoted to showing how the Post tracked down the Pentagon Papers. It was Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a special assistant to the Pentagons Chief for Foreign Policy-and a Viet Nam veteran-who had discovered the Papers in 1969. Shocked to learn that the U.S. government had known from the onset that the war in Viet Nam was unwinnable, yet continued for cynical ideological reasons to send American boys to their death over there, Ellsberg decided to become a whistle-blower. After photocopying the 7,000-page archive on Viet Nam, he leaked the archive to the New York Times and started an anti-war crusade with a public letter demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Nam.
Times was prevented by the White House from publishing the entire archive,
the Washington Post took on the challenge (after much internal debate).
Although the papers board of directors and its lawyers were dead
set against publication-it could have led to the Posts demise,
they felt-Graham and Bradlee, after much hand-wringing and arguing,
decided to go to press. As a result, the nation was able to learn about
the secret deals and political shenanigans which resulted in us going
to war in southeast Asia.